Like many paintings by Frida Kahlo, “Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky” focuses on a particular event in the artist’s life. It commemorates the brief affair Kahlo had with the exiled Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky shortly after his arrival in Mexico in 1937. In this painting, she presents herself elegantly clothed in a long embroidered skirt, fringed shawl, and delicate gold jewelry. Flowers and coils of red yarn adorn her hair and adroitly applied makeup highlights her features. Poised and confident in her stage-like setting, Kahlo holds a bouquet of flowers and a letter of dedication to Trotsky that states, “with all my love.”
Kahlo, like many Mexican artists working after the Revolutionary decade that began in 1910, was influenced in her art and life by the nationalistic fervor known as Mexicanidad. The artists involved in this movement rejected European influences and favored a return to the country’s native roots and folk traditions. Kahlo often wore the distinctive clothing of the Tehuantepec women in southwest Mexico; she also looked to pre-Columbian art and Mexican folk art for forms and symbols in her paintings. The compositional elements of the stage and curtains, for example, draw upon Mexican vernacular paintings called retablos, devotional images of the Virgin or Christian saints painted on tin, which Kahlo collected.
Clare Boothe Luce, the American playwright, socialite, and U.S. Congresswoman, donated “Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky” to NMWA in 1988.